Has Campaign’s Momentum Shifted Back to Rick Scott?
If Panama City resident Leon Delikat is any indication, Attorney General Bill McCollum’s focus on Scott’s history with Columbia Healthcare/HCA in their contentious primary for the Republican gubernatorial nomination will not carry McCollum to victory Tuesday.
McCollum had opened a double-digit lead over Scott is most recent statewide polls, but Public Policy Polling released a survey yesterday that actually showed Scott leading McCollum 47-40. Quinnipiac's final poll showed McCollum's 9 point lead had dropped to only 4 points, within the survey's margin of error.
Delikat, who attended a Scott campaign rally in downtown Panama City Saturday, said there have been so many charges in the harsh GOP primary that it is hard to determine which ones to believe.
“In today’s climate, you don’t know what’s true and what’s not,” he told the News Service of Florida after listening to a roughly 10 minute speech Scott gave to about 150 people Saturday.
McCollum has focused in television commercials and on the stump on Scott’s tenure as CEO of Columbia Healthcare/HCA, which was investigated for Medicare and Medicaid fraud and paid more than $1.7 billion to settle civil suits and in fines. As Scott spoke Saturday, two McCollum supporters – one dressed in medical scrubs, another in prison stripes – walked through the crowd holding signs referencing a Scott deposition in a lawsuit filed by a former employee of another of his companies, Solantic.
Scott has said he takes responsibility for mistakes that were made at Columbia and he said he will not release the deposition, calling it a “private matter.” McCollum has accused him of hiding the truth.
The attacks have not swayed Delikat.
“The government has got all the regulations of all these hospitals, so you can (not) be aware of things that are going on with your paperwork and all that stuff and you could end having to pay fines like a lot of other people in every industry,” he said.
McCollum’s ads may not have turned Delikat against Scott, but a recent Scott ad criticizing McCollum seemed to work with another Panama City resident who came to hear the Naples businessman speak Saturday. Explaining why he was supporting Scott, Sam Slay echoed a tough ad Scott released tying McCollum to former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer, who was arrested after being accused of funneling party money to himself by hiring his own company as a fundraising consultant for the party.
In the ad, which features footage of Greer introducing McCollum at an early campaign event, Scott says McCollum wanted to hide GOP financial records. Slay repeated the charges almost verbatim.
“He said I don’t know that his records need to be public,” he said. “I don’t know the details of that but the second statement was open government is not what we need, you can make more deals in secrecy. I don’t know if that’s a Freudian slip, (but) we do need open government. If you’re doing the right thing, why do you care?”
Slay said he was also bothered by McCollum’s inconsistency on whether Florida should have an Arizona-style illegal immigration law. McCollum initially said that he supported the law, but did not think requiring police to check immigrants' IDs is much different from what they're already allowed to do. He later released legislation similar to the Arizona law with Rep. William Synder, R-Stuart, after Scott criticized him for being soft on the issue.
“He said he was against the immigration law for Arizona, then he comes out (and says) ‘oh no I’m for that,’ when he clearly said he was against it, and it was his voice, it wasn’t somebody saying it in bad press,” Slay said.
Slay said he did not think Rick Scott was the perfect candidate for governor. He just thinks Scott is better for the job than McCollum, he said.
“I think probably one of the things we need is probably something different in Tallahassee,” he said. “The incumbents are not doing what they should be doing. It’s time to take a chance. Sometimes you look at candidates and say ‘how many of them would you walk through fire for?’ That’s not really the issue. The issue is who do you think is going to do you the most good.”
Slay said he liked Scott’s promise forgo the $133,000 a year salary paid to the governor if he were elected. The multi-millionaire doesn't really need the money, he said.
“He’s not going there for the money,” he said. “He’ll get in there and do something that he wants to do and then he’ll get out and move on. That’s one of the reasons I like him.”
In his speech, which Slay said Scott kept “short, sweet and to the point,” the first-time candidate did not address any of the issues Slay and Delikat - or McCollum - were talking about. He talked about jobs he held as a child and in the Navy, but said very little about either of the companies McCollum has tried to make into liabilities in the governor’s race.
“I started working at a young age. I had a TV Guide franchise by the time I was (in the) second grade, I delivered newspapers, I had a yard route,” he told the crowd. “I’ve built a variety of businesses. I’ve always been in business from a hospital company to the first health care cable channel to manufacturing companies. Everything I’ve done is figure out how to build companies and take care of customers and build private sector jobs. That’s what we need.”
After the speech, Scott said that he was not worried the election would be decided by the controversies that McCollum has raised repeatedly in the campaign.
“In the end, this election is going to be over who does the voter believe is going to help them get a job or keep their job and it’s an easy choice,” he said. “My opponent’s never created a private sector job, that’s all I’ve done all my life.”
A sign the attorney general likely disagrees, McCollum’s campaign was distributing a Scott deposition in a separate case involving Nevada Communications Corp. during his own Panhandle campaign swing Saturday.